German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock concerned about China. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


Europe concerned with South China Sea, German minister says


Europe is concerned about rising tensions in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, prompting an immediate rebuke from Beijing.

“The incidents over the recent months where the Chinese coast guard has used lasers and water cannons against Philippine resupply vessels, and even the collisions that happened, are of concern for us in Europe,” Baerbock said in a briefing on Thursday after her meeting with Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo in Manila.

China has laid claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, including areas the Philippines and its neighbours in Southeast Asia say are part of their maritime territories.

Baerbock said “Such claims are not covered by international law,” citing what she calls a “crystal clear” ruling by an international tribunal in 2016 that voided China’s sweeping maritime claims. Beijing has rejected that ruling.

Responding to Baerbock’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing is committed to handling differences with Southeast Asian countries through dialogue and negotiation but warned that other nations should not meddle.

“Differences between China and Asean countries are affairs between China and the regional countries directly concerned with it and extraterritorial countries should not interfere in it,” Mao said in a briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Ahead of her Philippine visit, Baerbock said in a statement that freedom of shipping routes and the security of supply chains are “at stake” amid an “increasingly assertive” China. She also pointed out the “strategic significance” of Southeast Asia, with which Germany enjoys close economic ties.

The “risky manoeuvres” of Chinese vessels at sea violate economic rights and opportunities of other countries, she said during the briefing. “They also call into question the freedom of navigation that is enshrined in international law affecting all countries worldwide,” she added.

Baerbock said Germany has deployed reconnaissance drones to bolster maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. “We want to continue this cooperation in the coastal area not only with regard to additional drones but also when it comes to training and regional cooperation,” she said.

Manalo said economic collaboration was also a key focus of his discussions with Baerbock as well as boosting defence cooperation and support of Germany for capacity building of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Europe’s largest economy wants the European Union to resume talks with the Philippines for a free trade agreement, said Baerbock, noting a shift in the nation’s approach to fighting drugs and recent efforts in peace negotiations with rebel groups. Trade talks between the EU and the Philippines stalled during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, who waged an anti-narcotics campaign that killed thousands.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also met with Baerbock on Thursday, said he will visit Germany in March. After Manila, the German minister is scheduled to visit Malaysia and Singapore this week.